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Space and Art (in Hong Kong) (談香港公共空間與藝術實踐)
at 3:11pm on 14th October 2011


1. Ho Sin Tung, Map – Home (2008). Ink on paper, 21x30cm, Courtesy of the artist, Hong Kong. 何倩彤|地圖–家Map-Home 墨水、紙 21cmx30cm 2008 Courtesy of the artist, Hong Kong

2. Street art by Hong Kong designer ‘Start From Zero’, under Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong Island flyover – on display for 4 days in 2009 before being removed by street cleaners. (Photo: John Batten). Start From Zero繪製在香港黃竹坑天橋下的塗鴉,在街頭清潔運動開始的四天前被銷毀。(攝影/John Batten)

3. Protest signage against construction of Express Railway Line to China outside Legislative Council, Statue Square, 2010 (Photo: John Batten) 放置於皇后像廣場立法院外,反對香港與中國連外高鐵興建的抗議標誌。(攝影/John Batten)

4. Tsang Kin-wah, Doggie! (2007). Acrylic, emulsion and silkscreen on canvas, 91.4×122cm Courtesy of the artist, Hong Kong. 曾建華|小狗!Doggie! 壓克力顏料、乳膠、絲印、畫布 91.4x122x5cm 2007 Courtesy of the artist, Hong Kong

5. Ho Siu Kee: Invisible Sound mixed-media installation during 'Charming Experience' exhibition, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 2009. (Photo: John Batten) 何兆基於2009年展出於香港藝術館「尋樂.經驗」的聲音裝置作品。(攝影/John Batten)

Originally published in ARTCO Monthly, Taiwan, March 2010. (This article was originally published in Chinese as one of many articles devoted to Hong Kong art and cultural issues at the time. Please scroll down to read the Chinese version.)

Space and Art (in Hong Kong)
by John Batten

Space, particularly the need for appropriate and well-planned use of public space, has been the great issue of concern in Hong Kong over the last four years. It is an issue that touches everyone living in Hong Kong, stemming from government plans for more roads, more land reclamation, more high-rise buildings, more clearing of older low-rise neighbourhoods, more shopping malls, and more - but often ill-thought out – space for the arts.

Hong Kong’s art community has encountered the issue of space both as a social issue and by specifically responding to government expansion plans for the ‘creative industries’ and the building of a range of new cultural venues, agitating for freedom of expression in public spaces and initiating art activities away from official venues – a response, out of necessity, as public art venues often operate conservatively with restrictive exhibition practices.

Hong Kong has a limited art scene with less than a hundred exhibition venues of different types, with the majority falling within the decorative range of the art spectrum. However, interesting cracks of artistic excellence can always be found, at any time, offering more substance than the publicized exhibitions seen in most commercial art galleries; for example, the small artist-run space, C&G Artpartment, in Prince Edward, Blue Lotus Gallery in Fo Tan and 1aspace in the Cattle Depot in To Kwa Wan. The Hong Kong Museum of Art, after years of focusing on exhibiting traditional Chinese and established European art, recently broadened its scope with a series of four specially curated exhibitions featuring younger Hong Kong artists.

In contrast, the proposed US$3 billion West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) is just not on the radar for Hong Kong’s grass-roots arts community. Its big budget and associated big talk around its construction have made it an unwieldy political and bureaucratic football whose players, currently and unfortunately, fail to look at quality arts and cultural event delivery to the public. The project continues to focus on the physical buildings to be built, including a museum, concert halls and performing arts venues, and their ‘look’ rather than exploring fundamental curatorial, collection and arts management issues related to the museum to be built and its crossover with Hong Kong’s two existing large public museums. (1) There is, however, recognition that delays over the construction of the WKCD sends an embarrassing message about the government’s commitment to its arts and culture policies; consequently, the recent funding of adjunct exhibitions including the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Architecture Biennial and the Budding Winter art installations in four parks by visual art students, is an attempt to create an interim momentum while the public waits for the WKCD to eventually open.

Hong Kong’s lack of a diverse range of exhibition spaces has meant that I have often, over the years, advised visitors on a limited stay in Hong Kong to just walk its marvelous older urban streets: the city’s history, social and cultural rhythms will be revealed quicker than most visits to a museum or art gallery! The visual landscape seen in these older urban areas can be wonderful: neon signs, hand-painted advertising, public notices, a varied almost-mediaeval street life, subtle architectural detailing, and a variety of shops and businesses. These areas are increasingly under threat of demolition.

One of the most visible signs of change since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997 has been the determination of Hong Kong authorities to impose stricter control over the physical spaces that lie between private property and obvious public facilities. The current “Clean Hong Kong” campaign seen ad nauseum on billboards, television and the radio is the latest attempt to curtail Hong Kong’s unique street culture and restrict individual expression in public areas. However, officious diligence has its limits and areas that are generally unsupervised (e.g. Hong Kong’s service back alleys and road flyovers), historically public (e.g. street markets and ferry pier forecourts), or common points of meeting (e.g. crowded street corners or overpasses) have traditionally been places to see the type of vernacular street decoration mentioned above. Over the last five years, anonymous artists have also begun using these places to display their own art: stickers, graffiti, transfers, murals, painting and stenciling - following in the steps of and inspired by Tsang Tsou Choi, the ‘King of Kowloon’, whose ubiquitous graffiti in a naïve calligraphic hand was a feature of unsupervised public spaces throughout Hong Kong prior to 2000 when sickness curtailed his activities.

Simultaneously, there has been a migration of art of the street into galleries with Schoeni Art Gallery and new gallery No Borders Art featuring a range of local and international street artists, but the best can still be seen where it is intended: in the city’s back alleys and under flyovers, with designer/artist Start From Zero being the best.

Vernacular street-level art and the government’s current cleaning frenzy reflect wider issues: on one hand is Hong Kong’s special character and ambience, its dogmatic Cantonese individuality and on the other is a bureaucratic top-down approach to setting public policy. A dramatic and decisive flashpoint was the demolition, to allow a reclamation and six-lane roadway, of the historic harbourfront ‘Star’ Ferry building in 2006 and the threatened demolition of the adjacent Queen’s Pier a few months later which coalesced, at the time, in the public calling for better heritage conservation and urban planning, demands for a drastic improvement in air pollution levels and greater attention to people’s quality of life. Photographer Tse Chi-tak documented the three-month occupation of Queen’s Pier by protesters in 2007, publishing Heaven Queen Earth King - photos of Queen’s Pier, a prescient survey of the frustrations that many young people feel towards inflexible and poor official decision-making.

The issues in dispute were often arguments over physical structures (the ‘Star’ Ferry building, Queen’s Pier and, also in 2007, the wanton vandalism of a 1930s ‘Mandarin’-styled house, King Yin Lei, by a property developer who wished to bypass building regulations), but at a deeper level it is a difference in perceptions about cultural expression and a subtle tug-of-war of wills. Deeper still, is the fact that public demand for universal suffrage and greater democracy is never far from any issue where the public’s sentiments and government policy differ.

During and after the initial protests over the demolition of the ‘Star’ Ferry, artists and students became increasingly involved in the evolving issue of the public’s right to use space that had been inappropriately resumed by property developers for their sole use (particularly Times Square in Causeway Bay), despite land use leases that allowed the public to have rights of access and passive use of the same land. By organizing performances, installations, protests, writing in the press and using the Internet in innovative ways, artists provided a strongly visual profile alongside other community groups who strategically lobbied the government and used statutory town planning mechanisms with great success to force changes in government planning policies. In early 2010, groups of young people (recently coined the “post-1980s generation”)(2), were the spirited face of large protests, including solemn art performances, against the construction of a US$9 billion express rail-line linking Hong Kong into a China-wide network.

In mid-2009 crowds flocked to A Passion for Creation, a Louis Vuitton organised exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. However, it was the display of Hong Kong contemporary artists and their artistic purity that impressed rather than the ostentatious main event with its obvious commercial presentation of luggage and the dubious ease of organizing an exhibition that comprised almost solely of easily transported international artist videos and films.

Artists protesting outside the Museum about its commercial sell-out and pandering to the Louis Vuitton brand name offered passersby a flyer showing a cartoon of the Museum with a witty “this space for rent” sign. Ironically overhead, Richard Prince’s banners of steamy B-grade novellas on the Museum’s outer walls could have been an artistic knockout (despite its allied use of the exhibition sponsor’s logo) but descended into mediocrity due to design changes demanded by bureaucrats worried about the supposedly racy subject matter. (3)

Visual artists and film directors have for many years used Hong Kong’s urban environment as a particular expression of Hong Kong cultural identity. Artists, including Chu Hing-wah, Luke Ching Chin-wei, Tsang Tak Ping, Leung Chi Wo – even, obliquely, Luis Chan; designers Stanley Wong (aka anothermountainman) and GOD’s Douglas Young, photographers So Hing Keung and Tse Chi Tak; and film directors Ann Hui, Patrick Tam, Fruit Chan and Wong Ka-wai have each offered a strongly articulated view of Hong Kong and depicted Hong Kong as a place with a unique urban feel, great passion and individuality. Contrast the studied depiction of Hong Kong in, for example, Fruit Chan’s movies Little Cheung (1998), Hollywood Hong Kong (2001) and Lam Wah Chuen’s Runaway Pistol (2002), against the sanitized rose-coloured depiction of Hong Kong offered by Hong Kong government agencies and tourist authorities. If Hong Kong’s ephemeral and unique urban streetscapes disappear, how then will Hong Kong films, visual art and TV then depict this city?

After a rollercoaster ride prior to the 2008 financial meltdown, the Hong Kong art scene has seen a cleansing twelve months of sobriety and a subtle maturing by audiences towards over-hyped exhibitions and inflated contemporary Chinese art prices. Although the auction houses dominate art sales figures and have a high profile, their daily involvement in the art scene is non-existent – indeed, although the Mainland Chinese art market appears to be prominent, the number of galleries in Hong Kong actually exhibiting art from China is relatively few. It is a conundrum possibly explained by the simple fact that Hong Kong continues to lack contemporary art collectors.

Enthusiasm by the arts community, and meeting a need due to conservative official visual arts programming, has seen a range of self-initiated art offerings. Soundpocket recently organized the stimulating Around Sound Festival on Lamma Island and the first Sculpture by the Sea was successfully held along the Repulse Bay and Deepwater Bay coastline – both these events could consolidate into worthwhile projects in future years. Despite (but probably due to!), government financial support the long-running yearly Microwave Festival wallows; its new media games arcade-type experimentation has become tiresome, the festival has reached its sell-by date.

A younger generation of motivated artist organisers has improved the diversity of art activities and events in Hong Kong. Complaints Choir has evolved into a tight unit and their English and Cantonese song renditions have built a cult following using the support structure of 1aspace in To Kwa Wan. The publicly funded Shanghai Street Art Space has been taken over by Woofer Ten, a diverse collective of artists and writers, whose interest in Hong Kong culture will give principle organizer and art critic Jaspar Lau a physical space in which to display the group’s ideas around culture, community engagement, politics and aesthetics.

C&G Artpartment has developed an eclectic exhibition and curatorial programme and actively uses YouTube to broadcast its informative and amusing ADC interviews of art events around town. The word play on “ADC” (or “Arts Development Council” – a statutory body tasked with financing arts and culture projects) was also used by conceptual artist Kwan Sheung Chi in his ADC or ArtWalk Drinking Contest performed during ArtWalk 2009 and which later evolved into an on-going series of videos.

Until ten years ago, there was only one university-based visual arts school – at the Chinese University of Hong Kong – producing a handful of artists. The subsequent increase in undergraduate and postgraduate visual arts programmes has seen a burgeoning diversity of art practice and a critical mass of artists talking about and, importantly, involved in quality art production. The enthusiasm of practicing artists/art teachers, including the younger Magdalen Wong and Lukas Tam, mid-career Ho Siu Kee and Fiona Wong, and the slightly older generation of Chan Yuk-keung and Leung Mee Ping, plus healthy competition between the different art schools and the eclectic offerings of visiting overseas art teachers (predominantly from Australia’s RMIT University) has seen a marked increase in ‘alumni’ support and a culture of artistic insularity making the entire art scene internally stronger and confident with its own initiatives.

As a generalization, Hong Kong art is markedly different from Mainland Chinese art (with which it is inevitably compared against) and which - almost consciously - ignores much of the influence of international art trends. Work is often tactile, hand-worked and construction based, on the edge of sculpture, often using found, natural or recycled objects and inspired by local cultural imperatives. Much art touches on the absurdity of a situation, surrealist and dada in essence; the art and newspaper articles of Luke Ching Chin-wei, in this respect, has had particular influence on a younger generation of artists due to his uncompromising individuality, personal rapport and purity of social and political messages. Younger artists, for example Lee Kit, Magdalen Wong, Enoch Cheung, Hanison Lau, Hei Ng Ka Chun, Otto Li, Tozer Pak, Tang Kwok Hin and Lui Long Tin have all recently produced three-dimensional work that touches on the absurd, often with a subtle political and social commentary. The offbeat can also be seen in painting and the graphic arts; Angela Su’s detailed drawings and Wilson Shieh’s ink paintings deal with aspects of the bizarre or quirky; Halley Cheng’s use of Song-dynasty styled paintings often contain a subversive modern twist; Sushan Chan’s social commentary in illustration and Ho Sin Tung’s wry observations of Hong Kong’s busy youth using references from film and the Internet styled with her own typography. Tsang Kin-wah’s use of profanity (with the Cantonese being particularly explicit) patterned within a William Morris inspired wallpaper design gives the viewer a jolt once the juxtaposition is understood. It has only been a recent development that Hong Kong artists’ practice has become multi-faceted; it is refreshing to see video, photography, installation and two-dimensional work included in an artist’s portfolio.

Contemporary Mainland Chinese art often has a monumentality that demands a ‘wow!’ reaction, but quickly tires as the same suggestive trick is repeated, while Hong Kong art beckons the viewer to step in and appreciate the finer details of both message and media. There is also a refreshing lack of pandering to the market, but this soft approach has meant few Hong Kong artists are recognizably known – even in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has a pivotal economic, political and social role within the Pearl River Delta, and there is great understanding that regional art events - particularly the Guangzhou Photo Biennial and the Guangzhou Triennial - are equally important for Hong Kong’s art community. A group of young Hong Kong artists, including the hard-working Doris Wong Wai Yin, recently opened Observation Society, an art space in Guangzhou. The Hong Kong based Asia Art Archive’s substantial physical and online information and library of images has consolidated its place for Asian art researchers around the world. It is obvious that Hong Kong’s unparalleled infrastructure, freedom of expression, rule of law and transparent information systems makes it the primary link in the Delta; it is a truth – or, should I say, a space - within which good art can be built.


(1) The government announced in February 2010 that Hong Kong’s two public art museums, the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Heritage Museum, would not be independently governed, despite consistent recommendations by consultation panels of art professionals over the previous nine years. The arts community were understandably upset but not surprised by the decision.

(2) The term “post-1980s generation” was originally coined in China to describe self-centred Chinese youth not interested in social issues; the term in Hong Kong, however, has the opposite meaning, describing young Hong Kong people who are disillusioned by a lack of democracy and poor decision-making and who are agitating for change.

(3) These imposed design changes were explained by artist Richard Prince in a public talk at Hong Kong Museum of Art, 22 May 2009.

Aspects of this essay appeared in John Batten: ‘Hong Kong’s Cracks of Interest’, originally published in the French Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong’s magazine, Echo, December 2009 and John Batten: ‘Something In the Air’, South China Morning Post, 29 December 2009.

If you want to see the English version online with images it is:

原文刊於《典藏今藝術》3月號/2010 第210期 (香港文化與當代藝術經驗)

好空間能帶來好藝術 - 談香港公共空間與藝術實踐
John Batten (約翰百德)




香港的藝術場所相當有限,只有不到一百處不同類型的展覽場所,其中大多數都屬於藝術光譜內的裝飾範疇。然而,有趣的傑出藝術表現還是可以隨時發現,它們比大部分經過商業藝廊宣傳的展覽提供更多的內涵;例如,位於太子站,由藝術家經營的小型空間C&G藝術單位(C&G Artpartment)、火炭藝術村的藍蓮花藝廊,以及在土瓜灣牛棚藝術村的1aspace藝廊等。而香港美術館在多年來集中於傳統中國與歐洲知名藝術的展出後,最近也拓寬範圍,舉辦了四場主打香港年輕藝術家的特展系列。




自從1997年香港回歸中國後,其中一項最明顯的改變徵兆便是,香港當局決定對介於私人產業和明顯公共設施之間的硬體空間實行更嚴格的控管。目前的「清潔香港」活動在公布欄和廣播電視上宣傳到令人作嘔的地步,這是削減香港獨特街頭文化和限制公共區域個人表達的最新手段了。然而,官方的努力有其限度,在那些通常未受監視的地區(例如香港公共設施後巷和天橋底)、歷史性的公共場所(例如市集和碼頭)或一般會面點(例如擁擠的街角或天橋),傳統上都是觀看上述這些地方街頭裝飾的地方。在過去五年中,匿名藝術家們也開始利用這些地方展示他們自身的藝術:貼紙、塗鴉、轉印圖案、壁畫、繪畫和蠟印──他們受到「九龍皇帝」曾灶財(Tsang Tsou Choi)的啟發,跟隨著他的步伐;在2000年九龍皇帝因病而縮減活動之前,他以素人手筆在各地留下的墨寶,是香港公共空間未受監視前之一大特色。

與此同時,街頭藝術亦移居到畫廊內,Schoeni畫廊和新開的No Borders Art畫廊主打一系列本地和國際的街頭藝術家,但是最好的作品還是從原來的地方欣賞得到:在城市後巷和天橋底,而設計家兼藝術家Start From Zero是數一數二的。





2009年中,群眾蜂擁至路易威登(Louis Vuitton)在香港美術館策畫的「創意情感」(A Passion for Creation)展覽。然而令人印象深刻的,不是具有明顯商業性的皮包展示等等這類浮誇的主要活動,也不是規畫這種展覽令人質疑的輕鬆度——因為這場展覽的成分幾乎全是易於運送的國際藝術家錄像作品和影片,而是香港當代藝術家及其藝術的純粹度。

在美術館外,藝術家抗議著這種迎合路易威登名牌的商業出賣行為,他們向路人散發傳單,上面印有以美術館為漫畫公仔的詼諧「此地招租」標誌。反諷的是,在上方,美術館外牆上正是普林斯(Richard Prince)火辣B級小說的廣告,這原本也會是件令人印象深刻的藝術品(儘管它一併使用了展覽贊助商的商標),但卻因為官僚們擔心其預設的辛辣主題,因此加以干涉,而降級為平庸之作。 (註3)





一群積極的新生代藝術策劃者已改善了香港藝術活動的多樣性。「香港投訴合唱團」已發展成緊密的單位,而在開始使用土瓜灣la空間(1a space)的支援結構後,他們的英語及廣東歌曲演出已形成了一股狂熱崇拜。「活化廳」是由不同藝術家與作家組成的多元共同體,目前已取代了公共出資的上海街視覺藝術中心,該群體對香港文化的興趣將為主要規畫者兼藝評家劉建華帶來一處硬體空間,可以在此展示他們對文化、社區參與、政治與美學的觀點。

C&G藝術單位已發展出折衷性的展覽和策展計畫,並積極使用YouTube宣傳城內藝術活動的ADC情報娛樂訪問。在2009年的「ArtWalk」活動上,觀念藝術家關尚智同樣在其「ADC或ArtWalk飲酒競賽」(ADC or ArtWalk Drinking Contest)的演出中運用了「ADC」的文字遊戲(ADC是「藝術發展局」(Arts Development Council)的簡稱,專門贊助藝文企畫的法定機構),之後也發展成一系列進行中的錄像作品。



普遍來說,香港藝術和中國藝術截然不同(卻總是不得不被比較),而香港藝術也幾乎是有意識地忽略大部分國際藝術潮流的影響。作品通常都是具有堅實質感的、手製的、以結構為基礎的、偏向雕塑方面的、通常使用現有的、天然的或回收的物件,也常受香港文化要素啟發的。許多藝術品都觸及某種狀態的荒謬性,帶點超現實主義和達達主義的本質;在這方面,程展緯的藝術和報紙文章由於其不妥協的獨特性、對社會政治訊息持有的個人和諧與純淨,格外對年輕一輩的藝術家世代具有影響力。年輕一輩的藝術家們,例如李傑、黃頌恩、張康生、劉學成、吳家俊、李天倫、白雙全、鄧國騫和呂朗婷,最近都製作了觸及荒謬性的三度空間作品,當中通常也都帶有一絲細微的政治社會評論。這種不合潮流的作法也出現在繪畫和平面藝術中;徐世琪細緻的素描和石家豪的水墨畫都處理著怪異或詭譎的層面;鄭哈雷運用宋朝風格的繪畫經常包含著一股現代性扭曲;陳素姍在插畫中的社會評論,以及何倩彤運用影片的指涉及其結合自創字體的網路介面,對香港忙碌青年做出了尖銳觀察。曾建華對粗話的運用(其中廣東話格外明顯)搭配著受莫里斯(William Morris)啟發的壁紙設計,一旦觀眾理解了這種並置作法,便會大受震驚。香港藝術家的實踐開始變得多層面,這只是最近的發展而已;能看到藝術家的作品輯中包括了錄像、攝影、裝置作品與二度空間作品,這真是振奮人心的事。




1. 儘管在過去九年來,藝術專家的顧問小組不斷地提出建議,在今年2月,政府仍宣布香港的兩座公共博物館,即香港美術館和香港文化博物館,將不會獨立運作。可以理解地,藝術社群對這決策並不高興,但也不感到意外。

2. 「後80年代世代」一詞最先杜撰於中國,用以形容對社會議題漠不關心的自我中心青年;然而,該名詞在香港卻有相反的意義,主要形容香港年輕人因為民主缺乏與不良決策而幻滅,同時焦急地等待改變。

3. 這些加以干涉後的預設由普林斯(Richard Prince)親自於2009年5月22日,在香港美術館內向公眾解釋。

本文中的觀點亦見於約翰‧百德,〈Hong Kong’s Cracks of Interest〉,原載於香港法國商會的雜誌Echo ,2009年十二月;另見百德(John Batten),〈空氣中的一些事〉(Something In the Air),香港:《南華早報》,2009.12.19。


中文翻譯: 郭晝瑄

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